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Fiddler on the Roof: Menier Chocolate Factory

February 20, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 3rd February 2019).

Moving from French to Russian poverty isn’t much of a leap for “Les Misérables” director Trevor Nunn. He employs the same intellectual grimness here as in previous work and manages, if not to discover anything new within the piece (this isn’t Shakespeare after all), to at least freshen and surprise a little.

This is most evident in the downbeat first half hour of the show, where the most memorable numbers are placed. A proper fiddler on a roof (Darius Luke Thompson) sits above a bare stage as “Tradition” unfolds in restrained manner. The three eldest daughters give “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” considered thought rather than mindless teasing, while “If I Were a Rich Man” eschews all “deedle-didle” joy in favour of groans and aches as tender flesh and muscles are treated at the end of a hard day.

The reasons become clear as the family gather for “Sabbath Prayer” and we realise suddenly that these are real people, a group barely surviving but bonded by faith and love. Set Designer Robert Jones is to be praised for his attention to detail, the Judaic items on display are authentic, the simple boards and boxes against a terrace of shacks entirely in keeping with the period.

The show truly opens up just after this, with original Jerome Robbins choreography given thrilling exposition in “To Life.” From there, via a memorable wedding – “Sunrise, Sunset” reflective, the “Bottle Dance” for the benefit of the happy couple until fate intervenes, it is a downhill struggle in which we are fully engaged.

Teyve (Andy Nyman) is less gregarious than usual. Sharp of wit when he has the time, but his mind is on survival and providing for his family as well as the God with whom he often converses on the intimate terms of one accepting his position in life.

His Golda (Judy Kuhn) is perhaps the more whimsical of the pair, her fine voice and acting making credible a hope in dreams and portents as a guide through tough times.

Daughters Tzeitel (Molly Osbourne), Hodel (Harriet Bunton) and Chava (Kirsty Maclaren) keep at their hearts the teachings of their parents, even as each rebels in her own way. Tzeitel’s Motel the tailor (Joshua Gannon) the “boy next door” proves himself a quiet yet growing-in-confidence husband.

Hodel’s rebellious student Perchik (Stewart Clarke) has more than enough charisma to challenge the status quo and get a woman to follow him to the ends of the Russian Empire. Clarke, notable in “The Rink” proves again his leading man credentials. Major recognition will surely follow. Younger sisters Shprintze (Soshana Ezequiel) and Bielke (Sofia Bennett) play a nice scene with him too, both having decent voices in choral numbers as well.

Third, and least suitable suitor Fyedka (Matt Corner) does well to balance welcome lover with unwanted intruder in his relationship with Chava.

In smaller roles, Yente (Louise Gold) is a sympathetic tale-carrier with more awareness than usual of her status in the community. Rabbi (Fenton Gray) has perfect Hebrew pronunciation (if lack of awareness of the meaning of one word – which shouldn’t have been used) and an inventive turn of mind in dispensing blessings.

Lazer Wolf (Dermot Canavan) has striking impact as the spurned suitor whose emotions turn in a moment at the wedding.

A particularly well staged “Tevye’s Dream” gives Fruma Sarah (Gaynor Miles) and Specialist Consultant Paul Kieve a chance to shine, as the inventiveness of Nunn and choreographer Matt Cole match those of Tevye the teller.

A decent sized orchestra under Paul Bogaev keeps the sound as kosher as possible, and Tim Lutkin, Jonathan Lipman and Richard Mawbey keep lighting, costume and makeup likewise appropriate.

The show is so tightly constructed that there is little room for fresh interpretation, but this version has the advantage of the low-ceilinged ex-chocolate-factory over a gleaming theatre to add a little to the gloom. That there is more dark than light in the show, yet it rarely swamps it, suggests the team found what they were looking for. Certainly, three hours fly, and the heart and soul are moved and refreshed by the good book (and great score) once more.

5 stars.

 

The show is now sold out at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but transfers to the Playhouse Theatre on 21st March 2019. See Ambassador Theatre Group for details.

 

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